08/04/2011 2:19PM

Saratoga: Whitney looks to be anyone's race

Tom Keyser
Tizway, with Rajiv Maragh riding, wins the Metropolitan Handicap.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It has taken longer than hoped for Flat Out and Tizway to reach their potential. With each one coming off a lifetime-best performance in a graded stakes race, it raises the question, can they improve even more?

If so, Saturday’s $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap – which on paper seems as wide open a Grade 1 as you will ever see – could boil down to a two-horse race. If not, then almost any of the remaining nine horses could win it.

“I promise you I couldn’t put together a superfecta box,” said Al Stall, trainer of last year’s Whitney winner, Blame, and this year’s Whitney starter Apart. “You’d need about eight of them to be confident.”

There is plenty on the line in Saturday’s Whitney: a $750,000 purse, a chance to ascend the ladder in an unsettled handicap division; and an automatic berth – with entry fees paid – in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

Tizway and his connections – owner Bill Clifton and trainer James Bond – have been here before. In 1997, they won the Whitney with Will’s Way. They have finished second and third in the race with Behrens in 1999 and 2000.

Tizway finished fourth in the Whitney in 2009, but appears to be in much better form in this, his 6-year-old year. His infirmities, which included a broken wingbone in his right front foot, seem behind him. He enters the Whitney off a dominant 2 3/4-length victory in the Metropolitan Handicap on May 30, in which his final time of 1:32.90 was the second-fastest in the 118-year history of the race.

Bond purposely skipped the Suburban with Tizway to await the Whitney and has given the horse two stiff in-company works coming up to the race.

“For the first time in his life, I think I can train him full-time at 100 percent,” Bond said of Tizway. “I think when this horse is at full strength and fit he’s a very, very talented racehorse. Needless to say, the Met Mile showed that.”

Tizway, who will break from post 5 under Rajiv Maragh, will attempt to become the first Met Mile winner also to win the Whitney since In Excess in 1991.

Like Tizway, Flat Out has had physical problems that have limited him to just nine starts midway through his 5-year-old year. Those problems included a cracked shoulder and bad feet. Those issues seemed behind him when he rallied from fifth to record a 6 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont on July 2. That followed a sixth-place finish in the Stephen Foster, in which the horse raced along the inside when most of the winners were rallying along the outside.

His trainer, Charles “Scooter” Dickey, believes “there is more” to come from Flat Out, whom he once thought a Kentucky Derby candidate before he was sidelined early in his 3-year-old season.

“We always thought he was a good horse we waited on him and he amazed us more [in the Suburban],” said Dickey, who trained Flat Out here during his 2-year-old season but never raced him.

Dickey believes Flat Out, who has been based at Monmouth Park since the Suburban, has moved forward since the race and as a barometer points to Nick Esler, an exercise rider for trainer David Fawkes, for evidence.

Dickey said that Esler got on Flat Out at Belmont and here in Saratoga and told Dickey “he feels better than he did at Belmont,” according to Dickey, who has Flat Out in Fawkes’ Saratoga barn.

Coincidentally, Fawkes has a major player in the Whitney in Duke of Mischief who won the $1 million Charles Town Classic – beating a field that included Tizway – and who finished fourth in the Stephen Foster.

“He moved a little early. He made the lead about the eighth pole and flattened out,” Fawkes said. “He still ran a good race.”

Apart finished one-half length in front of Duke of Mischief in the Foster, a race in which he appeared to back up in upper stretch, only to alter course and come again.

“Apart made a few mistakes. He’s a little spotty in his running,” Stall said. “He’s there, he backs up, and he comes on again. We feel if he ever just puts it together – which he’s supposed to do with age and maturity if you look at his pedigree – he could be right there in one of these big ones.”

Morning Line, trained by two-time Whitney winner Nick Zito, looms the main speed of the Whitney field, but could be engaged by Friend or Foe and possibly Rodman or Rail Trip. Friend or Foe and Rail Trip were heads apart in a swiftly run overnight stakes at Belmont on June 5 that was the seasonal debut for both horses.

Giant Oak won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February, and comes off a wide trip when fifth in the Stephen Foster. Headache is in career form having won his last two including the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap, but could be the longest shot on the board.

Considering the longest shot on the board has won the Suburban (Flat Out) and Stephen Foster (Pool Play) that might not be a bad thing.

The Suburban will go as race 10 on 11-race card that includes the Grade 1 Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both races will be shown live on the cable network Versus during a one-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.